Many of Takeshi Kitano‘s fans immediately associate the name with his violent yakuza movies, forgetting, among others, this funny 1999 comedy, Kikujiro.
It is the best work by this peculiar actor/director, where he exhibits a greater intimacy and delicacy while playing as always an unpolished man of few words.
In this case, however, his unyielding wife entrusts him with a special mission, accompanying a neighborhood child on his long journey to find his family.
Indeed, the boy has been living with his grandmother since his father’s death and has never once seen his mother, who moved away to the other end of the country when he was a child.
His grandmother is too old and shabby to make the trip, so she gives him some money telling him to manage on his own.
However, the wife of Kitano‘s character, whose name is indeed Kikujiro, does not agree to abandon him, so she charges her husband to watch and help him get to his destination.
Unfortunately, Kikujiro is a grumpy fellow who spends all the money on gambling and abandons him in a public park.
Later, however, he feels guilty, as this child reminds him of his parentless childhood, so he starts hitchhiking.
Of course, along the long road, the stubborn man gets into trouble many times, yet fortunately, he also meets some friendly people, such as a couple of acrobats and a wandering poet.
Although they are as poor as them, these characters help them reach their destination, where the child will not find the truth he wants about his mother.
Therefore, Kikujiro, with his bizarre new friends, decides to lift the spirits of the little boy with a short but blissful vacation he will never forget.
The tough heart of Beat Takeshi
As soon as Takeshi Kitano‘s face appears in any movie trailer or poster, one of the first characters coming to mind for almost every fan is the fantastic Otomo from the great Yakuza trilogy of Outrage.
While not a crime boss, the Kikujiro figure in this 1999 movie has the same devastating attitude, albeit in a comic and sometimes even demented vein.
Underlying this story is the classic evolving relationship into a friendship between an adult and a child, where both learn something from each other after the initial ordinary distrust.
From a narrative standpoint, this is nothing new for these personalities who find new friends to overcome their weaknesses in solitude.
However, what really makes the difference is how the clever old Beat Takeshi decides to portray this small childhood fairy tale.
Every minute of this movie is surprising and delightful, just as every step, these characters take along their way always holds a discovery you don’t expect.
Nothing unbelievable or over the top happens; instead, in the absurdity of each situation, the story always holds realism, almost as if it were a crazy documentary.
Even the dialogues are straightforward and direct, pregnant with affection for these characters who, in their own way, are all outsiders of a society unable to understand them.
Where then words do not arrive, all those emotions come into play, framed with images portrayed in this strange director’s usual practical and elegant style.
There is simply no one else in the entire world of cinema with the surreal humor of Takeshi Kitano, here creating a tiny circus of oddball men worthy of the best Federico Fellini.
Even in sadness, you can find happiness, if not at least the excitement of getting a chance to start over.
The freedom to be an outsider
Among the various characters in this 1999 movie, there is not one that we could call normal, and I am not just talking about the protagonist Kikujiro.
Let’s start with little Yusuke Sekiguchi, who is quite naive and adorable in the lonely wandering child role.
Therefore he enthusiastically embarks on this journey, innocently trusting strangers, including his eccentric neighbor, whom he had never even spoken to before.
Unfortunately, the real world is not as candid and childlike as he is, like the kids willing to rob him as soon as he steps out of the house.
Besides Kikujiro, however, he finds unexpected new companions in the wandering bikers Great Gidayu and Rakkyo Ide, as well as Akaji Maro, who is simply outstanding.
These three freely-minded souls immediately become attached to the little one, feeling a duty (although no one ever speaks openly about it) to protect him from the wickedness of the outside world.
For this reason, they spend the entire final part of the movie playing together as if they were lifelong friends.
They are those friends we always remember with nostalgia, those boys and girls we spent time with just for the pleasure of companionship without having to gain or lose anything.
Of course, despite our love for these characters, we must place Takeshi Kitano above everything and everyone.
Indeed, Kikujiro is the real beating heart and driving engine of this 1999 movie, dragging everyone with madness and simpleminded goodness toward a momentary boundary of peace and freedom.
This character is just as much a child who never could (or never wanted to) fully grow up, facing life aggressively and always striking first.
With this great direction and performance, Kitano demonstrates his pure talent for telling any story most straightforwardly and honestly possible.